I need to back up a bit. Although I-15 between Great Falls and Helena in
itself is just another freeway, the country through which it passes can hold
one's interest - what could be seen of it because of the smoke. The road
follows the Missouri River and even crosses it several times. It is easy to
use your imagination and see the Corps of Discovery trying to maneuver the
heavy canoes against the river's flow. Around Craig I could see helicopters
rising up out of the trees trailing big fire buckets. The smoke was thicker
in this area and I had to believe that they were dipping into the Missouri
and flying somewhere nearby to fight a fire. As I approached Wolf Creek (just
about out of gas, as usual!) I could see high on the ridge behind it the
object of the helicopters. There was a huge fire burning.
I had to stop for gas in Wolf Creek so I turned off towards the ridge and
ran immediately into a roadblock. I explained to the nice, big, VERY big
gentleman in the Army suit that I was about out of gas, so he let me go
through. I filled up EG (gas mileage had started to pick up a bit) at a gas
station at the foot of the ridge. High above, helicopters were dropping huge
buckets of water on an out-of-control fire and exhausted fire fighters were
taking a break up the road. Across the street from the gas station, the local
population had broken out the lawn chairs and were relaxing by the side of
the road watching the firefighting. Beer in one hand. Cigarette in the other
(as if they weren't already breathing enough smoke). Forgive me for saying it
was a hot time in the old town tonight.
After continued adventures since leaving the winter quarters with the
Mandans north of Bismarck, Lewis and Clark found themselves near present day
Loma where two rivers came together. We now know that the one from the north
is the Marias. The other fork is the Missouri. All but two of the Corps of
Discovery were sure that the north fork was the Missouri. The two? Lewis and
Clark. Eventually, scouting reports proved they were probably correct. Once
Lewis and Clark made up their minds, the rest of the group followed with no
dissent. If the falls they were told to expect by the Mandans were found L &
C would be proved correct.
They found the falls (Great Falls, Montana), but, in spite of some
initial poetic language entered in the journals, they soon grew to hate the
area. Not only was there one falls to portage around, but there were five.
The grueling 18-mile portage dragging heavy canoes didn't take the planned
day or two. The four trips took about a month and put the group behind on
their timetable to get through the mountains. It would cost them and
contribute to the worst part of their journey.
After the long portage, the Corps of Discovery continued to follow the
Missouri River south through present day Helena. They missed more than one
chance to head west through passes that would have saved them hundreds of
miles and many days of travel. Although any real hope of finding the fabled
Northwest Passage was gone, they continued following the Missouri looking for
Wednesday morning August 30th I left Helena on Highway 287 in the
direction of Three Forks and the Missouri Headwaters State Park with great
anticipation. There, three rivers come together to form the Missouri: the
Jefferson, the Madison and the Gallatin, as named by Lewis. Jefferson, you
can figure out. The Madison (or "Maddison" as Lewis spelled it) was named for
future President James Madison, then secretary of state. You probably figured
that out, too. The one you didn't get was named for Albert Gallatin,
secretary of the treasury. It took me about seven days to follow the winding
roads for 2,000 miles along much of the Missouri's banks. The Corps of
Discovery had taken until July 1805, about 14 months, to follow the 3,000
miles of the winding river. Of course, I didn't have the pleasure of spending
the winter snowed in north of Bismarck.
The area around the headwaters can be very beautiful, with good lookouts
and viewpoints of the coming together of the rivers or so I'm told.
One of many welcoming signs in the Headwaters area. I could hardly
Instead of great sights, I found these signs posted
Every trail, every camp sight, every picnic ground was posted as closed
because of the fire danger. There were few trees, only some along the rivers,
but the grass was very dry. I was shut out.
I filled up EG in Three Forks. I wanted to take another side route later
on and didn't know where the gas stops would be. After being unsuccessful in
finding a restaurant that looked like someplace I wanted to eat, we headed
off up I-90 towards Butte. Lewis and Clark didn't. They continued south along
the Jefferson. It turned out to be the long way around, but they were getting
desperate looking for the Shoshones. (Remember, Sacagawea was Shoshone.) L& C
knew they had to meet up with the Indians and buy horses to make the crossing
of the mountains. Without the horses, they were stuck.
Let me tell you about Butte. It has to be about the ugliest spot on earth
that is populated. You'd think that it would be located in a beautiful
mountain setting. You cross a pass of about 6,400 feet to get there (coming
from the direction I was) and Butte itself is 5,700 feet in the crisp
mountain air. There's only one problem. The miners got there first. Stand in
Butte and look around at the hills. There's no other way to put it but that
they've been raped. There was gold and silver, but it was cooper that made
the area. Sometimes called the "richest hill on earth" about 11 billion
pounds of cooper were extracted. That's just the cooper. I wonder how much
scenery went with it. There are those that leave the "e" off of Butte for
Around 1955, most of the easy-to-get-at cooper had been removed so
Anaconda started the Berkeley Open Pit Mine. This turned into one of the
largest, truck-operated pit mines in the world. There's a viewing stand if
you want to take the time to look at the old ugly hole in the ground. I
And I won't even go into the details of Our Lady of the Rockies, a
90-foot high statue that sits atop the Continental Divide ridge overlooking
the city. "Bless this land. May it heal." (But I rant.)
The pass before Butte wasn't a lot of fun for EG. It was a steep climb
and, although no work was being done, one of the two lanes up the hill was
blocked off with road cones. EG was into and out of third gear, working hard
and holding up traffic. Eventually, I just slalomed between the cones into
the perfectly good blocked off lane to let the traffic by. I did this several
times to the delight (and relief) of the faster cars and trucks.
To make up for the miserable drive to Butte, I decided to try Highway 1
just north of Butte to loop around back to I-90 instead of following 90 all
the way to the day's destination of Missoula.
Highway 1, once it gets by the area immediately around Anaconda, turned
out to be a nice drive. Much of it follows the Flint River and, although it
doesn't appear so on the map, has some nice winding stretches. Good road. EG
One of several markers along the way
many discoveries in the area - which
helped seal the fate of the Indians.
I stopped once more for gas in Clinton (no relation) and made my way into
Missoula. It was a bit early to stop, but the next stretch of highway I
wanted to travel didn't leave many opportunities for gas stations and motels.
Besides, I had a hunch the scenery would be great and I preferred to start
fresh. So, EG was tucked into bed at 7,014 miles having covered another 276
and a total of 5,132 since leaving Miami.
It wasn't until about September 9th that the Corps of Discovery made it
to Lolo, just south of present day Missoula. Their trip by canoe, on foot and
on horseback from the headwaters to Lolo took from July 30th until September
9th. EG and I covered it in a fairly short day's drive. Their adventures
getting there and along the path that I would take the next day are the most
exciting and unbelievable of their trip. I can't do them justice in these
short articles, but a couple of things stand out.
If you have a good Montana/Idaho map you can follow along. The C.O.D.
followed the Jefferson River until roughly Twin Bridges. (From Three Forks,
follow Highway 2 to Cardwell then follow 55/41 south.) From there they
continued along/on the Beaverhead River through Dillon to roughly where Clark
Canyon Dam is today. Lewis had taken a small party and was hiking and
exploring overland looking for the Shoshones while Clark struggled along with
the rest of the party and the canoes. If I remember correctly, Clark wanted
the walking bit, but his feet were badly damaged from the ever-present
prickly pear cactus and he was suffering from "the rageing fury of a tumer on
my anckle musle." Near the Clark Canyon Dam is a place named Camp Fortunate.
There, Clark and the struggling group were reunited with Lewis, and with
Lewis were the Shoshone Indians. (Lewis' meeting with the Shoshones is a good
tale in itself.) It was at this meeting place that two things happened that
are right out of a soppy grade B movie. First, one of the Indian women
recognized Sacagawea. The joyful reuniting helped the two groups, Indians and
the Corps of Discover, get off on the right foot. Then, and I'm not making
this up, Sacagawea recognized the Indian chief, Cameahwait, as her brother!
Things were looking up.
The C.O.D.'s route heads west from the Clark Canyon Dam area on 324.
Before 324 turns south, continue on west through the Lemhi Pass (7,400 feet)
across the Continental Divide to Tendoy. (Tendoy is about where Lewis had
finally caught up with the Shoshones some days before. (You're now in present
day Idaho.) Somewhere along this hike Lewis must have realized that the
crossing of these mountains wasn't going to be easy or quick. The expected
views of plains like the east side of the mountains only yielded views of
more mountains and more mountains.
The trek now follows pretty much along 28 then 93 north to Lolo. Follow
though Gibbonsville, Conner, Hamilton, and Stevensville to Lolo, which L & C
finally reached on September 9, 1805. Along the way they suffered snow, sleet
and rain. They met up with the Salish (headed east to the buffalo country)
who were friendly and helped as best they could. They ran out of food and
made meals out of the horse colts. They got lost. They were pretty miserable.
And they still had a long way to go to get out of the mountains. I'm sure
they would like to have had the time back it took them to portage around the
Great Falls area.
Lolo, or Traveler's Rest as Lewis and Clark called it, became a stopping
point for a couple of days. The Corps took time out to recoup, repair
clothes, (especially shredded moccasins), hunt, and gaze west toward the Lolo
Pass and the next part of the journey. Here they also met up with three
braves from the Nez Perce who said the trip over the pass would take six days
and then the Corp would meet up with their tribe near the Columbia. I don't
know whether they were disappointed or heartened by the prospect of six more
days' trek. I hope they didn't rely on that estimate too much.
I was right. I've reread the above and there is so much left out about
this section of the C.O.D.'s trip that all I can do is encourage you to read
about it for yourself.